Brisbane Roar’s Jamilla Rankin hopes her recent move into the heart of defence will have a positive impact on her national team aspirations as she adds increased versatility to an already impressive array of skills.
The club’s reigning Liberty A-League Breakthrough Player of the Year has impressed at centre-back over the past two games after featuring there for the first time at professional level against Canberra United in December.
The positional shift has been part of a plan hatched between Rankin and Head Coach Garrath McPherson in pre-season, with the left-footer looking to strengthen her claims for Commonwealth Bank Matildas selection.
“The national team is one of my goals and to have the ability to play in a central defensive role as well as a wide defensive role will really help me,” Rankin said.
“Given where the Matildas need depth and even just to develop as a player, it’s something that will really help me in the future.
“It’s not an entirely different position. I’ve been playing centre-back off and on for a lot of my footballing life so far.
“[The coaches] have been looking to cement that a bit more this season, which is good, because we talked about that at the start of the season.
“I said I would like to play a bit more at centre-back if that was an option. Garrath said ‘of course, we’re here to develop you as a player’ and it’s good that he’s followed through on that and given me the opportunity.
“I think he’s happy with how I’m going at the moment. I think I’m developing with every game as a centre-back.”
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Though still just 18, Rankin has been a constant presence in the back four since breaking into the starting side at the outset of the 2020/21 season.
The experience gained from playing alongside Clare Polkinghorne and Kim Caroll have held her in good stead for a season in which she has been one of few mainstays amid injuries and COVID-enforced withdrawals.
“I learnt a lot off Kim and Polks. There’s no better way I could have started my career than beside those girls,” the young defender said.
“Last season I got to play quite a few games and to keep that going is good. This is the debut season for quite a few girls and they’ve had to step up a lot. They’ve filled out the backline really well and they’re growing a lot.
“Everyone in this team brings something new this year and that’s something that’s really helping us grow.
“Everyone has got their unique traits and personalities and I think it’s really helping us progress through the season.”
McPherson believes Rankin has all the attributes to be a long-term success at both centre-back and in a left-sided role, where the majority of her professional appearances have come to date.
“Technically she’s excellent,” McPherson said. “She’s a great defender. It’s hard to think she’s still in 18 and has come in with a full season already of regular game time, which across our competition is rare.
“You could play Jamilla in a variety of positions and throughout her development she has played centrally, as a wing-back, at full-back.
“I think as she grows in experience, that centre-back role, because she’s left-footed, it suits her nicely, the way she likes to defend.
“She likes to be on the front, she likes to break up play, she’s quick and agile. In that central area, having other defenders around her, it’s something she will learn how to deal with as well. When you’re a full-back, a lot of the time you’re isolated and it’s a 1v1 contest between you and a winger.
“She’ll keep growing and I think we saw against [Hannah] Wilkinson of Melbourne City she was outstanding. Then again last Wednesday night in Sydney, in those conditions… it was a constant barrage of that longer passing game. Again, she dealt with that extremely well.”
As for whether a central role could enhance her hopes for higher honours, he added: “I know Tony [Gustavsson] and his staff have eyes across all of our games, they’re constantly watching.
“They have access to all of her data, her goal setting. It’s something they will be aware of.
“They run a very tight ship and I’m confident they will know that she has had a couple of games in there now and has been looking very comfortable.”
Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United
Sunday, 13 February 2022
Moreton Daily Stadium
KO: 3:05pm (QLD)
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